Somdev Bhatt 11th Century. Original in Sanskrit.
English Translation: C. A. KINCAID, c. v. o. Indian Civil Serice  1921
Background. "Vikram Aur Betaal" is a series of enchanting tales derived from the 11th-century work 'Betaal Pachisi' by Kashmiri poet Somdev Bhatt. The narrative follows the wise and adventurous King Vikramaditya of Ujjain. When a mendicant consistently gifts him fruits containing rubies, the king's curiosity is piqued. Meeting the mendicant under specific, eerie conditions, Vikramaditya learns of a task only he can perform: to retrieve a corpse, Betaal, from an ancient tree for the mendicant's mystical rituals.

As King Vikramaditya carries the corpse, Betaal's spirit tells him tales, concluding each with a riddle. If Vikramaditya knows the answer but stays silent, his head will shatter. But answering breaks his vow, and Betaal returns to the tree, making the king restart his mission. After 25 stories, Betaal reveals the mendicant's ulterior motive: to gain unparalleled powers by sacrificing the king. Forewarned by Betaal, Vikramaditya confronts the mendicant and, through his wit, triumphs over the deceitful ascetic.


ONCE upon a time there stood upon the Himalayas a town of the Gandharvas. Over it ruled a king Jimutketu by name. In order to obtain a son he worshipped piously the Wishing Tree. Atlast the Wishing Tree said to him, "O king, I am pleased with your devotion. Ask any thing of me that you wish." "Divine Tree' answered the king, "vouchsafe me a son, who will make my kingdom and my renown endure after me." A year later one of his queens bore the king a son. The king was delighted and gave large sums in charity. Then he sent for Brahmans to name his son. The Brahmans gave him the name of Jimutvahan. When the boy was eight years old, he began daily to worship the gods and to study the sacred books. In this way he became so wise and thoughtful, adventurous, and brave, pious and learned, that he had no equal in the whole king dom. And all his subjects became as virtuous as he was. When he reached manhood, he worshipped continuously the * Wishing Tree just as his father had done. And the Wishing Tree, pleased with him as it had been with his father, appeared before him and told him to ask for a boon. * The Kalpa Vraksha or Wishing Tree has the quality of granting any wish to him who sees it. It came up at the churning of the ocean. The God Indra first took it, but the greater God Vishnu eventually took it from him. 7
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Divine Tree," said Jimutvahan, " if you are pleased with me, then remove, I pray you, all poverty from my people, make them all equally rich." "So be it," said the Wishing Tree. Then all King Jimutketu's subjects became so rich, that none of them would obey any orders or do any work. When the whole kingdom had become disorganized, the king's relatives conspired together, saying: "Father and son have both become religious mad. No one obeys them. Let us, therefore imprison both of them and take their throne from them." The king never suspected the plot, until his kinsmen one day with an armed force besieged the palace. The king asked his son what he should do. "Fear nothing," answered the prince, "through your valor, and merit, I shall beat them in battle." "My son," said the king, "this body is destructible and fortune is fickle. A man's end is born with him. Therefore, let us abandon our kingdom and spend the rest of our lives in prayer. If we fight for our lives and thrones, we shall in the end repent of it." When the son heard the king's words, he said, "As you please, my father. Let us yield up our kingdom to our kinsmen and depart to do penances in the forest." Thereafter the king summoned his kinsmen and handed over the kingdom to them. Next he and his son went to the Malaya mountains and building a hut of leaves dwelt in it. There Jimutvahan gained the friendship of a rishi's son. One day the prince and the rishi's son went for a walk among the hills. As they walked, they saw a maiden playing 

King Jimutketu and Prince Jimutvahan 99
on a lute and dancing before an image of Parvati. When the prince's and the maiden's eyes met, they instantly fell in love the one with the other. The maiden, blushing, ran back home. Jimutvahan went home also; he was too shy to tell his father what had befallen him. But both he and the maiden were unable to sleep and sighed the whole night through. Next morning the maiden went to Parvati's temple. Jimutvahan, too, went there alone. He asked one of the serving maids who her mistress was. She answered, "The princess' name is Malayavati. She is the daughter of Malaya ketu, a king of the Vidyadharas. But you, sir, who are you and whence have you come, and what is your name?" The prince told the serving maid his whole life-story from his birth onwards and the serving maid repeated it all to the princess. The princess became very sad and spent her days lying on her couch, deep in thought. Her serving maid told the queen. The queen told the king and added that the princess was now a woman, and that it was time to choose her a husband.
After the queen had spoken, King Malayaketu thought the subject over. Then he sent for his son Mitravasu and told him to look out for a husband for his sister. "My father," said Mitra vasu, "I hear that Jamutketu, a king of the Gandharvas and his son Jimutvahan have abandoned their kingdom and have come to live upon these mountains." King Malayaketu said, "Very well; I am quite willing to marry my daughter to Jimutvahan. Go and see King Jimutketu and
100 Tales of King Vikrama
bring Jimutvahan back with you. Mitravasu went to Jimutketu's hermitage and asked him to let his son go back with him. "My father has sent for him," the prince explained, "as he wishes to bestow on him the princess my sister." King Jimutketu agreed and sent back Jimutvahan with him. Thereafter King Malayaketu married princess Malayavati to prince Jimutvahan with great pomp and circumstance.
After the wedding, Jimutvahan with Malayavati and Mitravasu returned to his hermitage. All three fell at the old king's feet. And in return he blessed them. Next day both the young princes went for a walk over the hills. As they walked, they came to a big white heap. When Jimutvahan saw it, he said, "Brother, what is that big white heap?" Mitravasu replied, "The snake people come up here by hundreds of thousands and everyday Garud* comes down from the sky and eats them up. The heap is made of their bones," Jimutvahan was silent for a moment, then he said, "Brother, go home and have your breakfast. I shall remain here and worship the God Shiva. I always worship him at this time." Mitravasu went back to breakfast and Jimutvahan walked on. After he had walked on some way, he heard the noise of someone weeping. Jimutvahan went in the direction of the sound. Atlast he came to an old woman weeping. He went up to her and asked her why she cried. "I have a 
* Garud is Vishnu's Eagle. Vishnu rides him. (See Tales from the Indian Epics)

102 Tales of King Vikrama
son," she answered, "named Shankhchud. Today it is his turn to serve as food for Garud. Garud will surely eat him. That is why I am weeping." "Do not weep, lady," said Jimutvahan, "I am ready to give my life to save your son." "No, no," cried the old woman, "do not throw away your life like that. Indeed, I feel as fond of you as if you were my own son Shankhchud."
As she was speaking Shankhchud came up. When he learnt what the prince had said, he exclaimed, "Fair prince! do not sacrifice your life for mine. There are many miserable wretches on earth like me; whereas men as virtuous and kindly as you, are rarely met with. If you live, you will benefit thousands, whereas it makes no difference to anyone whether I live or die." "Nay," answered Jimutvahan, "an honorable man cannot go back on an offer once made. You go back the way you came. I shall sit here where you would have sat and Garud will come and eat me."
Shankhchud went to Parvati's temple to worship her image. Just after he had gone, Garud swooped down from the sky. When the prince saw his terrible form, horror seized him. Garud's legs were four times longer than the tallest bam boo. His beak was as long as a toddy palm. His great stomach was the size of a mountain. His eyes were like the windows of a house. His wings were like great black thunderclouds. With open beak he rushed at the prince and seizing him flew up into the heavens in huge circles. The prince had a golden ring on his

King Jimutketu and Prince Jimutvahan 103

finger on which his name was engraved. All blood-smeared it slipped off his finger and fell down upon the Malaya hills, close to where his wife happened to be sitting. Directly she saw it, she fainted. When she recovered consciousness, she went home and told her father and mother. They looked at the ring and recognizing it as the prince's were heart-broken with grief. Her brother, sister and father went out to look for Jimutvahan. On the way Shankhchud met them. He told them the whole story and showed them Garud circling in the sky above them. Then he ran until he got directly under the mighty bird and shouted out, "O Garud, let him go. He is not your prey. My name is Shankhchud. Here I am sitting on this stone. Come and eat me." When Garud heard, he was puzzled and descended to earth. "Woe is me!" he thought to himself, "I must have seized some Brahman or Kshatriya. I have done a great sin." He freed the prince and said, "Tell me, O man, who you are, and why you throw your life away like this?"
"Listen," answered the prince, "a tree suffers from the summer heat and yet throws a cool shade. It bears fruits and others eat them. The nature of the tree resembles that of the true man. What avails a man to have a body if he cannot use it for the benefit of others? If sandalwood is ground to powder it gives a sweeter perfume. Sugar-cane gives its juice, only when it is cut in pieces and pressed in the mill. To refine gold, men heat it in the fire. Heroes remain true even 104 Tales of King Vikrama though it cost them their lives. Pleasure and pain matter nothing. It is all one to them whether they die today or a hundred years hence. If fortune is on a man's side, he is happy; if fortune deserts him, he is miserable. He who walks in the path of righteousness will face any evil but he will not plant his foot in the path of wickedness. A man becomes no better by growing rich, nor does he become any worse if he grows poor. In short, he who in this life does not win the gratitude of another, lives in vain. But he who gives his life for another has put it to good service. Men who think only of saving their own lives are no better than crows or dogs. But the man who dies to save a cow or a Brahman, his friend or his wife or, indeed, any other, goes to Vaikunth, Vishnu's heaven."
Garud answered, "All honour to the man brave enough to give his life for another. For he is rarely met with in this world." Then he said, "I am pleased with your gallant act; ask of me any boon you will." Prince Jimutvahan said, "Divine Bird, grant me, I pray you, this boon: eat no more snake people from today onwards, and bring back to life those of the snake people that you have eaten in the past." Garud on hearing the words of the prince, descended into Patala and bringing back ambrosia sprinkled it over the heap of bones. Instantly, all the snake people that he had eaten, came to life again. Then Garud blessed Jimutvahan saying, "Prince, you will win back your kingdom." After making this promise, Garud went to his own abode 
King Jimutketu and Prince Jimutvahan 105
and Shankhchud went back to his dwelling place underground. Jimutvahan rejoined his father-in law, his brother-in-law and his wife and all went back rejoicing to Jimutvahan's hermitage. But the fame of Prince Jimutvahan's noble act spread to his father's kingdom. And his kinsmen and all his people on hearing of it, set out to the Malaya mountains and called him back to sit upon his father's throne.
At this point the oilman's son said, "King Vikrama, tell me who of these persons was the no blest?" "Shankhchud," replied the king. "Why?" asked the oilman's son. "Because," said King Vikrama, "although Shankhchud had only just es- caped death, he yet offered his life to save the prince from Garud's clutches." "But" objected the oilman's son, "surely the prince's conduct in offering his life to save Shankhchud was nobler still." "No," said King Vikrama, "prince Jimutvahan was a Kshatriya by caste; Kshatriyas are taught from childhood that they must place no value on their lives. It was thus not hard for the prince to offer his to save Shankhchud." When King Vikrama had finished speaking, he found himself alone. He realized that he had again broken his promise. Returning to the burning ground lie took the dead body down from the branch and began once more to retrace his steps. As he did so, the oil- man's son began to tell his sixteenth


00VikramBetaalIntroduction 01VajramukutAndPadmavati
02MadhumalotiAndHerSuitors 03KingRupsenAndVirvar
04The MainaAndTheParrot 05MahadeviAndTheGiant
06ParvatiAndTheWashermansBride 07PrincessTribhuvanasundari
08KingGunadipAndViramdeva 09SomadattaAndMadansena
10KingGunashekhar 11KingAndSeamaiden
12PrincessLavanyaAndThe Gandharva 13ShobhaniAndTheRobber
14PrincessChandraprabha 15KingJimutketuAndPrinceJimutvahan
16TheKingAndUnmadini 17GunakarAndTheAnchorite